As a big fan of the earliest Medal of Honor titles, I was both excited and skeptical about a modern era relaunch of the series. The first game was so influenced by El Spielbergo and Saving Private Ryan that it managed to present World War II in a fresh way for millions of console owners. There was many a diluted follow-up, but to me, Medal of Honor would always be remembered fondly as the shooter that got me hooked on all other shooters. But that was more than a decade ago, and World War II is so yesterday. It’s all about modern warfare these days. Nobody wants to fight Nazis anymore. With the modern shooter market largely being held by Activision, and despite having released various modernized Battlefield titles, EA tapped a long-forgotten resource for their first true entry into the modern warfare FPS: Medal of Honor. Choosing to try and replicate the realism of war, down to the very enemies our real fighting forces are taking on right this moment, EA’s updated Medal of Honor is a lonely, cold experience with gameplay that is serviceable at best. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call this game a loss, this new Medal of Honor is not the rebirth EA thought it was.
Researching and interviewing real Tier 1 operatives for use as the stars of the game was a smart move. The special ops soldiers that make up the various Tier 1 groups lead a mostly unheralded life on the frontlines, and I was looking forward to playing a game that gave me some insight into what that life must be like. Unfortunately, somewhere along the development line, EA also forgot to include a narrative. The entire game tells a story in the way that reminded me very much of Generation Kill, which was a non-fiction recounting of the war in Afghanistan. There was no real story there. It was simply an insight into the lives of the soldiers overseas. While there wasn’t a plot, there was a ton of character development. As you followed these men into battle, you began to feel a kinship with them, as if you were almost there. Medal of Honor is missing an emotional core, the omission of which is made even more glaring by the fact that, according to all the hype videos leading up to the game, the Tier 1 operatives are an extremely close brotherhood. Never once while playing did I feel any sort of connection to these men. When they were in danger, I didn’t feel a pressing need to save them. You are supposed to be one of pack, but from the game’s standpoint, you couldn’t be more distant from the men you trust with your life. It’s a shame, because this documentary-like story could have been one of the boldest, honest, and brilliant presentations of modern warfare gamers have seen to date. Instead, the entire structure of the game merely boils down to completing missions only so that the mission is complete, and so you can say you finished the game. There is no driving force compelling you to fight your way to the end, and while that may work in a book or an actual documentary, Medal of Honor is a video game.
What makes the single-player campaign even more disappointing is the gameplay. While there is a lot of variety involved mission to mission, there are far too many flaws holding the game back. For one, and this will come as absolutely no surprise, the AI of your squadmates is terrible. It’s not that they don’t shoot at the enemies, it’s that they don’t hit them. I don’t know why developers constantly program your computer partners to act like Stormtroopers, while the enemy AI has been trained by Rambo, but it’s extremely annoying. It’s made even more frustrating knowing that these soldiers are supposed to be in an elite class all their own, yet they rely on you to take care of all the dirty work. Now, the actual shooting is pretty good. It’s very realistic, and unlike other modern shooters, I actually felt like I was using a real-life weapon, not the bastardized video game version. However, almost anytime you have to use a scoped weapon/laser-guidance system in a scripted sequence, the graphics often become muddled and blurry, taking you right out of the game. The ATVs handle horribly, and though I had a terrible glitch happen during the Apache mission, that portion of the game is still pretty fun. Of course, this mission is also where I have the biggest issue with the game’s design. There is a building in town shooting RPGs at you, which you are supposed to destroy. There are no soldiers holding the RPGs. They are merely floating in midair outside of the windows of the building. Am I really to believe that was the best way to build this level was to put phantom rocket launchers in my path? How is that acceptable? This is not the only time a scripted sequence completely pulls you out of the game. Too often there are invincible enemies who become vulnerable only after a certain event happens, which absolutely baffles me. For a game that’s striving for realism, the moments when things get unreal really stand out, and make you question just how something like that made it into the final game.
As you may or may not know, a completely different team developed the multiplayer for Medal of Honor. Handing off the online portion of the game to DICE was both a good idea and a terrible one. The most puzzling question is if the single-player dev team didn’t have to worry about the multiplayer at all, how did their portion of the game end up so wonky? Fans of the Battlefield series will feel at home in the multiplayer, though it should be noted that the controls are different than they are in the single-player, and the online component is a faster paced game. While the offline game is all about getting around unnoticed (for the most part), Medal of Honor online is a meat grinder. Every match type ends up playing like D-Day, which is about the only thing this game shares in common with its originator. Don’t get me wrong, the multiplayer is enjoyable… to a degree. The issue comes from every match breaks down into spawn, pray not to get spawn killed, kill one or two guys, die, then spawn again. Even the objective-based games, which I love playing because there’s a goal other than killing, quickly devolve into chaos.
The online leveling system is my favorite so far. Instead of giving players an insane amount of weapons and minor upgrades to choose from, every level you unlock in any of the game’s three classes gives you a new weapon or one item to use across all weapons in that class. Instead of having to worry about only using the machine gun to unlock a better grip for that one model, when you play as the Rifleman class, you earn that handle for all your guns. The same is true across the Spec Ops and Sniper classes. Each of the classes upgrades independently, but if you’re really liking one class, you can earn a handful of upgrades in just a few matches. I’m a little curious as to why you have to unlock a scope for the sniper rifle, but aside from that one oddity, every class’ progression is pretty good. Medal of Honor gives you experience points for just about everything you do, and you can get some high combo chains linked together if you play your cards right. Unlocking the support actions, like mortar strikes or Hellfire missiles, can rack up even more points if you’re accurate with your placement. Instead of relying solely on kills to earn support actions though, you earn them with points. Points can be attained by killing people, but also by capturing flags, objectives, etc. As someone who plays the objective game types more often than deathmatches, being able to drop air strikes on the opposing forces by playing the game the way it was intended goes a long way in keeping me playing. Sadly though, there’s nothing terrifically special about the multiplayer that will drag you away from other shooters.
Once again, the Unreal Engine is responsible for many of my issues with Medal of Honor’s presentation. Texture pop-in is ridiculous, and sometimes takes up to five or six seconds to fully appear. Once everything is up and running, the game looks pretty good though. I don’t know what it’s like to really walk around at daytime in a dust storm Afghanistan, but thanks to this game I now have an idea. While the terrain isn’t incredibly diverse, every place you visit is rendered well enough. Sound design is the real standout here, as the battlefield has never sounded so good. When you’re in a firefight, it really sounds like the enemy are all around you, and the gunfire isn’t just blasted from all speakers all the time. Even more impressive are the quiet moments where the only sound is the dead of night. It’s ominous, and quite engrossing. Right up until the score kicks in. Another point where the developers miss-stepped was including a soundtrack, and especially in the portions with a licensed rock song. Instead of relying on good writing to create strong characters and a reason why you should care about them, the score is shoehorning in emotion, and it’s extremely out of place. There are mixed signals all over the place in this game, but none more confusing than when a hard-rock song begins blasting during the Apache mission. I understand the need to create atmosphere and intensity, but those feelings should come from the actual moment, and not a song playing in the background.
I really wanted to love this game. The original Medal of Honor is still one of my favorite games of all time, but this update is sorely missing every element that made that game memorable. While you may find this current incarnation a welcome online distraction for a short while, there isn’t a lot of replay value outside of the multiplayer. Even the game’s Tier 1 mode, which is time trial challenges of all the game’s levels, doesn’t provide enough strong material to warrant multiple playthroughs. It’s truly a shame this game falls so flatly on its face, as there was so much potential in the title early on. Disappointingly, that potential is never realized, and Medal of Honor is just another average shooter.